Tag Archives: Free Trade

Donald Trump’s plan to introduce tariffs is just a tax on consumer goods

I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery
I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery

What are the consequences of adopting tariffs for all of the people who are affected? What happens next, after stage one?

Here’s a lesson in basic economics from Joe Carter, writing for the Acton Institute.

He writes:

Both Sanders and Trump propose increasing tariffs on goods imported from other countries — and increase them significantly.* This isn’t that surprising for Sanders, a socialist who, on the issue of economics, is one of the most ill-informed candidates in modern history. But Trump should (and probably does) understand the detrimental impact tariffs have on the poor. And yet he has proposed an economy-crippling, poverty-increasing tariff.

In 2012, Trump proposed a tariff on China of 25 percent. In 2016 he bumped it up to 45 percent. (He later tried to lie and say he never proposed the 45 percent increase, but there is audio of him making the proposal.) A tariff is simply a tax on imports or exports, so Trump is proposing to raise taxes on imported goods by 25 to 45 percent. (To keep this point in mind, I’ll hereafter refer to tariffs as “taxes.”)

You might be thinking, “ So what? That’s a tax the Chinese have to pay.” But that’s not the way tariffs works. China doesn’t pay the tax — you do. If a tariff on Chinese goods is increased by 25 to 45 percent then you pay 25 to 45 percent more for those goods.

Here’s a way to think about it. Imagine there are two hamburger stands in town. One is owned by the mayor’s wife, Veronica, and one is owned by a woman who lives in the next town over, Betty.

Of the two, Betty makes the tastier burger. She is also able to charge $1 a burger since she is able to buy her supplies in her own hometown for much cheaper. Veronica’s burgers aren’t quite as good and cost more to make. She has to charge $1.30 per burger.

The mayor decides to implement a new tax of 45 percent on producers (like Betty) who don’t live in the city limits. Since Betty’s profit margin is already low, she has to pass the bulk of the 45-cent tax on to her customers. Instead of $1 she now has to charge $1.35.

So who is better off in this scenario? The only winner is Veronica. Since her burgers are now cheaper, she is likely to sell more. And who is worse off? The customers who now have to pay 30 to 35 cents more for every burger. That is money they could have used to buy other products or services. Now they have to spend additional money on this new tax.

The same principle applies to taxes on goods and services imported from other countries. Customers simply have to pay more for goods and services they used to get much cheaper.

To understand how Trump’s tax increase would affect consumers, take a trip to Target or Wal-Mart and add 45 percent to almost all the prices. That’s money that comes directly out of your pocket into the hands of the federal government — all to punish you for buying goods that are cheaper to make in China.

Harvard University economist Greg Mankiw explains what most professional economists agree on. The economic benefit of free trade tied for first place, with 93% agreement:

The recent debate over the stimulus bill has lead some observers to think that economists are hopelessly divided on issues of public policy. That is true regarding business cycle theory and, specifically, the virtues or defects of Keynesian economics. But it is not true more broadly.

My favorite textbook covers business cycle theory toward the end of the book (the last four chapters) precisely because that theory is controversial. I believe it is better to introduce students to economics with topics about which there is more of a professional consensus. In chapter two of the book, I include a table of propositions to which most economists subscribe, based on various polls of the profession. Here is the list, together with the percentage of economists who agree:

  1. A ceiling on rents reduces the quantity and quality of housing available. (93%)

  2. Tariffs and import quotas usually reduce general economic welfare. (93%)

He is the author of his “favorite textbook”, which is published by Harvard University Press.

This is not controversial among professional and academic economists. Economists across the ideological spectrum understand that free trade lowers the prices of consumer goods, and allows individuals, families and businesses to get more quality for their dollars. We can do better than Donald Trump and his naive, populist economic pablum.

Related posts

Jay Richards: eight common myths about wealth, poverty and the free market

I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery
I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery

Have you read Jay Richards’ book “Money, Greed and God?” Because if you haven’t, he’s written a series of articles that summarize the main points of the book.

The index post is here.

Here are the posts in the series:

  • Part 1: The Eight Most Common Myths about Wealth, Poverty, and Free Enterprise
  • Part 2: Can’t We Build A Just Society?
  • Part 3: The Piety Myth
  • Part 4: The Myth of the Zero Sum Game
  • Part 5: Is Wealth Created or Transferred?
  • Part 6: Is Free Enterprise Based on Greed?
  • Part 7: Hasn’t Christianity Always Opposed Free Enterprise?
  • Part 8: Does Free Enterprise Lead to An Ugly Consumerist Culture?
  • Part 9: Will We Use Up All Our Resources?
  • Part 10: Are Markets An Example of Providence?

Parts 4 and 5 are my favorites. It’s so hard to choose one to excerpt, but I must. I will choose… Part 4.

Here’s the problem:

Myth #3: The Zero Sum Game Myth – believing that trade requires a winner and a loser. 

One reason people believe this myth is because they misunderstand how economic value is determined. Economic thinkers with views as diverse as Adam Smith and Karl Marx believed economic value was determined by the labor theory of value. This theory stipulates that the cost to produce an object determines its economic value.

According to this theory, if you build a house that costs you $500,000 to build, that house is worth $500,000. But what if no one can or wants to buy the house? Then what is it worth?

Medieval church scholars put forth a very different theory, one derived from human nature: economic value is in the eye of the beholder. The economic value of an object is determined by how much someone is willing to give up to get that object. This is the subjective theory of value.

And here’s an example of how to avoid the problem:

How you determine economic value affects whether you view free enterprise as a zero-sum game, or a win-win game in which both participants benefit.

Let’s return to the example of the $500,000 house. As the developer of the house, you hire workers to build the house. You then sell it for more than $500,000. According to the labor theory of value, you have taken more than the good is actually worth. You’ve exploited the buyer and your workers by taking this surplus value. You win, they lose.

Yet this situation looks different according to the subjective theory of value. Here, everybody wins. You market and sell the house for more than it cost to produce, but not more than customers will freely pay. The buyer is not forced to pay a cost he doesn’t agree to. You are rewarded for your entrepreneurial effort. Your workers benefit, because you paid them the wages they agreed to when you hired them.

This illustration brings up a couple important points about free enterprise that are often overlooked:

1. Free exchange is a win-win game.

In win-win games, some players may end up better off than others, but everyone ends up better off than they were at the beginning. As the developer, you might make more than your workers. Yet the workers determined they would be better off by freely exchanging their labor for wages, than if they didn’t have the job at all.

A free market doesn’t guarantee that everyone wins in every competition. Rather, it allows many more win-win encounters than any other alternative.

2. The game is win-win because of rules set-up beforehand. 

A free market is not a free-for-all in which everybody can do what they want. Any exchange must be free on both sides. Rule of law, contracts, and property rights are needed to ensure exchanges are conducted rightly. As the developer of the house, you’d be held accountable if you broke your contract and failed to pay workers what you promised.

An exchange that is free on both sides, in which no one is forced or tricked into participating, is a win-win game.

On this view, what you really need to fear as a consumer is government intervention that restricts your choices in the marketplace.

Free trade in the real world

This is not a theoretical problem, either. Millions of people in the Ukraine are protesting against Vladimir Putin and his restrictive Russian policies in order to get more economic freedom by signing a free trade deal with the European Union.

Rick Pearcey posted about it on the Pearcey Report: (H/T Nancy Pearcey)

France24.com reports:

Hundreds of thousands of protesters swarmed Ukraine’s capital Kiev on Sunday, where the country’s opposition leaders urged them to continue heaping pressure on President Viktor Yanukovich to sack his government and abandon plans for closer ties with Russia.

Many of the demonstrators who gathered at the city’s central Independence Square are furious with the government over its decision to back out of a historic agreement with the European Union in favour of a possible trade deal with Russia, Ukraine’s Soviet-era ruler.

The protest . . . is just the latest sign of mounting tensions in Ukraine over the past two weeks, raising fears over the country’s political and economic stability.

That’s a real crisis: freedom-loving people fighting for their right to be prosperous by adopting the economic policies that produce wealth.

If you care about poverty, it’s often tempting to think that it can only be solved one way – by transferring wealth from the rich to the poor. But that is a very mistaken view, as any economist will tell you. The right way to create prosperity is by creating laws and policies that unleash individual creativity. Letting individuals create innovative products and services, letting them keep what they earn, making sure that the law doesn’t punish entrepreneurs – that incentivizes wealth creation. Fixing poverty does not mean transferring wealth, it means giving people more freedom to create wealth on their own. Free trade between nations is an important way that we encourage people to create better products and services that what they have available in their own countries.

Economists agree on the benefits of free trade

Who could possibly disagree with free trade? Well, many people on the left do. They favor imposing restrictions on free trade. For example, people on the left favor making those who import goods pay tariffs, which makes it harder to trade with other nations. People on the left want to pass rent control laws to block landlords and tenants from trading more freely. People on the left want to pass minimum wage laws that block employers and workers from trading wages for labor more freely. But economists generally don’t agree with any of restrictions on free trade. In fact, even across the ideological spectrum, the majority of economists view free trade as a wealth creating policy, and restrictions on free trade as a wealth destroying policy.

Harvard economist Greg Mankiw explains what most professional economists agree on.

Excerpt:

Here is the list, together with the percentage of economists who agree:

  1. A ceiling on rents reduces the quantity and quality of housing available. (93%)
  2. Tariffs and import quotas usually reduce general economic welfare. (93%)
  3. Flexible and floating exchange rates offer an effective international monetary arrangement. (90%)
  4. Fiscal policy (e.g., tax cut and/or government expenditure increase) has a significant stimulative impact on a less than fully employed economy. (90%)
  5. The United States should not restrict employers from outsourcing work to foreign countries. (90%)
  6. The United States should eliminate agricultural subsidies. (85%)
  7. Local and state governments should eliminate subsidies to professional sports franchises. (85%)
  8. If the federal budget is to be balanced, it should be done over the business cycle rather than yearly. (85%)
  9. The gap between Social Security funds and expenditures will become unsustainably large within the next fifty years if current policies remain unchanged. (85%)
  10. Cash payments increase the welfare of recipients to a greater degree than do transfers-in-kind of equal cash value. (84%)
  11. A large federal budget deficit has an adverse effect on the economy. (83%)
  12. A minimum wage increases unemployment among young and unskilled workers. (79%)
  13. The government should restructure the welfare system along the lines of a “negative income tax.” (79%)
  14. Effluent taxes and marketable pollution permits represent a better approach to pollution control than imposition of pollution ceilings. (78%)

Now when you are talking to a Democrat, you are talking to someone who disagrees with most or all of those common sense economic policies. For example, Obama’s backers in the labor movement inevitably endorse higher import tariffs, which discourage free trade between countries. No economist supports these tariffs on imports, because history has shown (e.g. – Smoot-Hawley Act) that tariffs destroy economic growth and reduce wealth creation. And that’s what I mean when I talk about economic illiteracy – I mean ignoring what we know from economics and our own experience with bad policies when we make policy.

Democrat economic policies don’t work because they are making policies that are based on economic myths. We know that these myths are myths because of economics is a mathematical science, and because we have tried good and bad policies in different times and places. We have calculations and we have experience to know what works and what doesn’t work. If you want to help the poor, you have to respect what economists know about how wealth is created. The solution is not to “spread the wealth around”, it’s to encourage people to create more wealth by inventing things that people freely choose to buy.

Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse lectures on basic economics

Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse
Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse

Here is a podcast on basic economics from Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse.

About the speaker:

Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D. is the founder and President of the Ruth Institute — a project of the National Organization for Marriage — which seeks to promote life-long married love to college students by creating an intellectual and social climate favorable to marriage.

She is also the Senior Research Fellow in Economics at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

She is the author of Smart Sex: Finding Life-long Love in a Hook-up World, (2005) and Love and Economics: Why the Laissez-Faire Family Doesn’t Work (2001), recently reissued in paperback, as Love and Economics: It Takes a Family to Raise a Village.

Dr. Morse served as a Research Fellow for Stanford University’s Hoover Institution from 1997-2005. She received her Ph.D. in economics from the University of Rochester in 1980 and spent a postdoctoral year at the University of Chicago during 1979-80. She taught economics at Yale University and George Mason University for 15 years.

The MP3 file is here.

Topics:

  • The study of economics is anti-postmodern – there is objective truth independent of what people think
  • The study of economics believes in fixed principles of human nature
  • Economics studies the allocation of scarce resources that have alternative uses
  • Economics studies how people exchange resources
  • How both people who engage in a voluntary trade always believe that they will be better off
  • How both people who engage in a voluntary trade both benefit from the exchange
  • How incentives motivate people to act
  • Understanding supply and demand
  • Understanding how “free” government services are rationed
  • Understanding opportunity costs
  • How prices signal producers to produce more or less, and consumers to buy or not buy
  • Market-driven prices versus price controls
  • The role of substitution
  • The necessity of allowing failure in a free market

The requirements of economic growth:

  • private property
  • contracts
  • the profit motive
  • competition
  • free trade
  • entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation
  • the rule of law

If you want to learn more about basic economics, I recommend picking up a book or two by Thomas Sowell – the first book I usually give away is “Intellectuals and Society”, and then next “Basic Economics”.

Are libertarians right to say that lifting sanctions on evil regimes leads to liberalizing reforms?

Has liberalizing relations with China caused their government to introduce pro-liberty reforms? Libertarians like Rand Paul who cheered Obama’s appeasement of Cuba think that it has, but what are the facts?

This is a news article from the ultra-leftist UK Guardian.

Excerpt:

China’s drift towards a new authoritarianism under the unsmiling leadership of Xi Jinping has found new expression in a series of alarming year’s-end moves to curb personal freedoms and free speech. The country’s implacable president and Communist party chief is forcefully driving China towards economic and geopolitical superpower status. But the social cost is mounting steadily.

With the ruthless crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong still fresh in the memory, Xi’s latest anti-democratic coup came in the form of expanded action to block Gmail, Google’s email service, presumably because it gave users a degree of autonomy that Xi and his unelected party cadres find threatening. China already regularly blocks foreign websites such as Facebook and YouTube. Google pulled most of its business out of China in 2011 after a row over censorship.

Aspects of Xi’s policy of “autocracy with Chinese characteristics” are familiar to the country’s academic community, which is under renewed pressure to toe the party line. Instructions issued by the president after a higher education conference on Monday included the demand that universities do more to promote Marxist doctrine and Communist party ideological guidance, the Xinhua news agency reported.

“Enhancing [party] leadership and party-building in the higher learning institutions is a fundamental guarantee for running socialist universities with Chinese features well,” Xi was quoted as saying.

Political indoctrination is already a routine feature of university life for Chinese students, while their teachers are subject to monitoring to ensure political correctness. In an echo of the Stalinist era in the Soviet Union, this year reporters from state-controlled media were ordered to attend university lectures and detect and denounce teachers whose ideas might be considered “scornful of China” or pro-western.

Christians are hit especially hard:

China’s estimated 60-70 million Christians have not escaped persecution during the Christmas period, according to reports from Beijing suggesting their plight has worsened under the new leadership. Members of Shouwang, a Beijing Christian group, told Agence France-Presse that several pastors had been under house arrest since they tried to arrange Easter services in a public square in 2011.

Most Chinese Christians shun state-run churches and worship in “house churches” beyond government control. But official tolerance of such independent activity is waning, judging by a crackdown on 400 churches in eastern Zhejiang province, some of which were reportedly demolished.

Offering an insight into paranoid party thinking, an official recently told Beijing worshippers to “resolutely resist the use of Christianity by foreigners to infiltrate China”. Crosses have been torn down at many churches and at a nursing home. The authorities have made an issue out of Christmas lights, which are increasingly popular in Chinese cities, saying they may pose a safety hazard.

The ultra-leftist New York Times had more to say. (H/T Dennis Prager)

Excerpt:

They pounce on bloggers who dare mock their beloved Chairman Mao. They scour the nation’s classrooms and newspapers for strains of Western-inspired liberal heresies. And they have taken down professors, journalists and others deemed disloyal to Communist Party orthodoxy.

China’s Maoist ideologues are resurgent after languishing in the political desert, buoyed by President Xi Jinping’s traditionalist tilt and emboldened by internal party decrees that have declared open season on Chinese academics, artists and party cadres seen as insufficiently red.

Ideological vigilantes have played a pivotal role in the downfall of Wang Congsheng, a law professor in Beijing who was detained and then suspended from teaching after posting online criticisms of the party. Another target was Wang Yaofeng, a newspaper columnist who voiced support for the recent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and then found himself without a job.

“Since Xi came to power, the pressure and control over freethinkers has become really tight,” said Qiao Mu, a Beijing journalism professor who was demoted this fall, in part for publicly espousing multiparty elections and free speech. “More and more of my friends and colleagues are experiencing fear and harassment.”

Two years into a sweeping offensive against dissent, Mr. Xi has been intensifying his focus on perceived ideological opponents, sending ripples through universities, publishing houses and the news media and emboldening hard-liners who have hailed him as a worthy successor to Mao Zedong.

[…]Mr. Xi’s recent orders and the accompanying surge of pressure on political foes further dispelled initial suspicions that his ideological hardening was a feint to establish his credibility with traditionalists as he settled into power. Instead, his continuing campaign against Western-inspired ideas has emboldened traditional party leftists.

This is why libertarians like Rand Paul can never be the Republican candidate for President. Foreign policy is one of the main responsibilities of the President. When it comes to choosing our leaders, we have to choose someone who sees what has and has not worked in the past. Trade is not a solution to reining in strong anti-Western nations, something else (maybe like Reagan in the Cold War?) is needed to deal with evil regimes. We made a mistake throwing Cuba a lifeline just as we had them on the ropes. We have to look at the world and ask what comes after stage one of foreign policy decisions – for all parties. The trouble with libertarians is that they don’t apply the economic way of thinking to foreign policy.

Jay Richards: eight common myths about wealth, poverty and the free market

Have you read Jay Richards’ book “Money, Greed and God?” Because if you haven’t, he’s written a series of articles that summarize the main points of the book.

The index post is here.

Here are the posts in the series:

  • Part 1: The Eight Most Common Myths about Wealth, Poverty, and Free Enterprise
  • Part 2: Can’t We Build A Just Society?
  • Part 3: The Piety Myth
  • Part 4: The Myth of the Zero Sum Game
  • Part 5: Is Wealth Created or Transferred?
  • Part 6: Is Free Enterprise Based on Greed?
  • Part 7: Hasn’t Christianity Always Opposed Free Enterprise?
  • Part 8: Does Free Enterprise Lead to An Ugly Consumerist Culture?
  • Part 9: Will We Use Up All Our Resources?
  • Part 10: Are Markets An Example of Providence?

Parts 4 and 5 are my favorites. It’s so hard to choose one to excerpt, but I must. I will choose… Part 4.

Here’s the problem:

Myth #3: The Zero Sum Game Myth – believing that trade requires a winner and a loser. 

One reason people believe this myth is because they misunderstand how economic value is determined. Economic thinkers with views as diverse as Adam Smith and Karl Marx believed economic value was determined by the labor theory of value. This theory stipulates that the cost to produce an object determines its economic value.

According to this theory, if you build a house that costs you $500,000 to build, that house is worth $500,000. But what if no one can or wants to buy the house? Then what is it worth?

Medieval church scholars put forth a very different theory, one derived from human nature: economic value is in the eye of the beholder. The economic value of an object is determined by how much someone is willing to give up to get that object. This is the subjective theory of value.

And here’s an example of how to avoid the problem:

How you determine economic value affects whether you view free enterprise as a zero-sum game, or a win-win game in which both participants benefit.

Let’s return to the example of the $500,000 house. As the developer of the house, you hire workers to build the house. You then sell it for more than $500,000. According to the labor theory of value, you have taken more than the good is actually worth. You’ve exploited the buyer and your workers by taking this surplus value. You win, they lose.

Yet this situation looks different according to the subjective theory of value. Here, everybody wins. You market and sell the house for more than it cost to produce, but not more than customers will freely pay. The buyer is not forced to pay a cost he doesn’t agree to. You are rewarded for your entrepreneurial effort. Your workers benefit, because you paid them the wages they agreed to when you hired them.

This illustration brings up a couple important points about free enterprise that are often overlooked:

1. Free exchange is a win-win game.

In win-win games, some players may end up better off than others, but everyone ends up better off than they were at the beginning. As the developer, you might make more than your workers. Yet the workers determined they would be better off by freely exchanging their labor for wages, than if they didn’t have the job at all.

A free market doesn’t guarantee that everyone wins in every competition. Rather, it allows many more win-win encounters than any other alternative.

2. The game is win-win because of rules set-up beforehand. 

A free market is not a free-for-all in which everybody can do what they want. Any exchange must be free on both sides. Rule of law, contracts, and property rights are needed to ensure exchanges are conducted rightly. As the developer of the house, you’d be held accountable if you broke your contract and failed to pay workers what you promised.

An exchange that is free on both sides, in which no one is forced or tricked into participating, is a win-win game.

On this view, what you really need to fear as a consumer is government intervention that restricts your choices in the marketplace.

Economists agree on the benefits of free trade

Who could possibly disagree with free trade? Well, many people on the left do. They favor imposing restrictions on free trade. For example, people on the left favor making those who import goods pay tariffs, which makes it harder to trade with other nations. People on the left want to pass rent control laws to block landlords and tenants from trading more freely. People on the left want to pass minimum wage laws that block employers and workers from trading wages for labor more freely. But economists generally don’t agree with any of restrictions on free trade. In fact, even across the ideological spectrum, the majority of economists view free trade as a wealth creating policy, and restrictions on free trade as a wealth destroying policy.

Harvard economist Greg Mankiw explains what most professional economists agree on.

Excerpt:

Here is the list, together with the percentage of economists who agree:

  1. A ceiling on rents reduces the quantity and quality of housing available. (93%)
  2. Tariffs and import quotas usually reduce general economic welfare. (93%)
  3. Flexible and floating exchange rates offer an effective international monetary arrangement. (90%)
  4. Fiscal policy (e.g., tax cut and/or government expenditure increase) has a significant stimulative impact on a less than fully employed economy. (90%)
  5. The United States should not restrict employers from outsourcing work to foreign countries. (90%)
  6. The United States should eliminate agricultural subsidies. (85%)
  7. Local and state governments should eliminate subsidies to professional sports franchises. (85%)
  8. If the federal budget is to be balanced, it should be done over the business cycle rather than yearly. (85%)
  9. The gap between Social Security funds and expenditures will become unsustainably large within the next fifty years if current policies remain unchanged. (85%)
  10. Cash payments increase the welfare of recipients to a greater degree than do transfers-in-kind of equal cash value. (84%)
  11. A large federal budget deficit has an adverse effect on the economy. (83%)
  12. A minimum wage increases unemployment among young and unskilled workers. (79%)
  13. The government should restructure the welfare system along the lines of a “negative income tax.” (79%)
  14. Effluent taxes and marketable pollution permits represent a better approach to pollution control than imposition of pollution ceilings. (78%)

Now when you are talking to a Democrat, you are talking to someone who disagrees with most or all of those common sense economic policies. For example, Obama’s backers in the labor movement inevitably endorse higher import tariffs, which discourage free trade between countries. No economist supports these tariffs on imports, because history has shown (e.g. – Smoot-Hawley Act) that tariffs destroy economic growth and reduce wealth creation. And that’s what I mean when I talk about economic illiteracy – I mean ignoring what we know from economics and our past experience with bad policies.

Democrat economic policies don’t work because they are making policies that are based on economic myths. We know that these myths are myths because of economics is a mathematical science, and because we have tried good and bad policies in different times and places. We have calculations and we have experience to know what works and what doesn’t work. If you want to help the poor, you have to respect what economists know about how wealth is created. The solution is not to “spread the wealth around”, it’s to encourage people to create more wealth by inventing things that people freely choose to buy.